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Pelloe, Emily Harriet (1877–1941)

by Noël Stewart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Emily Harriet Pelloe (1877-1941), journalist, equestrienne, botanist and artist, was born on 3 May 1877 at St Kilda, Melbourne, elder daughter of John Samuel Sims Sundercombe, bootmaker and merchant from Jersey, and his Victorian-born wife Sarah Elizabeth, née Heard. She attended a South Yarra private school where her talents for writing and painting were nurtured. The family moved to Western Australia in 1901 and next year, on 12 November, Emily married Theodore Parker Pelloe, bank manager, at St George's Cathedral, Perth. They lived in Melbourne and Mildura before returning to Perth in 1916; they had no children. During World War I Emily participated in recruiting activities.

A keen horsewoman, she won championship equestrian events at Sydney, Melbourne, Launceston and Perth Royal shows; at Perth she donated the coveted Emily Pelloe prize for the best equestrian turnout. With a female companion she made several long rides in New South Wales and Western Australia, later recording her experiences, notably of a thousand-mile (1609 km) return journey from Mildura to Adelaide, and of 'the drifting scents of the bush in a moonlight ride from Karridale to Augusta'. She was a member of the Perth Riding Club and president of the women's auxiliary of the West Australian Hunt Club.

In 1916 Mrs Pelloe began to study botany. In the 1920s she was a columnist for the West Australian. Under the pen-name 'Ixia' she inaugurated the 'Women's Interests' column, while in 'Answers to Queries' she addressed correspondents' problems about cookery, dress, health and other matters. She also combined her creative skills and botanical knowledge to produce several illustrated publications. Her Wildflowers of Western Australia (Melbourne, 1921) was claimed as the first book in the English language dealing with Western Australia's extensive and diverse flora. Written for amateur botanists, it contained both technical and subjective descriptions of plants: she described Sundews (Drosera) and Pitcher-plants (Cephalotus) as 'bloodthirsty savages of plant life' and hovea as a distinctive 'calendar' flower. She contributed a chapter, 'Floral glory', to the State's centenary volume, The Story of a Hundred Years (Perth, 1929) and a copy of her West Australian Orchids (Perth, 1930) was presented to the Duke of Gloucester in 1934.

In 1939 she collaborated with the State botanist, C. A. Gardner (her former protegé), to compile a brochure for the Western Australian Government Tourist Bureau. In addition to her outstanding wildflower paintings, Mrs Pelloe's landscape watercolours reflect the brilliance of the Australian bush. Some of her pictures were acquired by government departments and in 1938 her prints were used as Christmas cards by Premier J. C. Willcock and L. E. Shapcott. Although an enthusiast, and knowledgeable about indoor floral arrangements, she opposed indiscriminate picking of wildflowers; she was an early and active member of the Western Australian Naturalists' Club.

Except when immaculately dressed for equestrian events, Emily Pelloe was not fashionable. She was a tall woman with a gentle quiet manner, warm smile, and rather slow of movement in contradiction to her vitality and ability to achieve. She identified with women's affairs through the Country Women's Association, the Women Writers' Club and as a supporter of the proposed women's university college (now St Catherine's College). Her career was curtailed by ill health and, survived by her husband, she died of heart failure on 15 April 1941 while riding her horse Snowdrift home from an Easter meeting of the Women's Riding Club at Watermans Bay. She was cremated with Anglican rites.

Next year Theodore Pelloe presented 400 wildflower paintings to the University of Western Australia, now housed at St Catherine's College and the botany department. At the handing-over ceremony Governor Sir James Mitchell extolled Mrs Pelloe as a writer, artist and humanitarian.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Stewart, As I Remember Them (Perth, 1987)
  • Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), 1, pt 6, 1929
  • Bulletin, 17 May 1917
  • West Australian, 16, 19 Apr 1941, 11, 21 Feb 1967
  • E. Pelloe paintings and sketches (held at State Library of Western Australia, St Catherine's College, Crawley, and Botany Dept, University of Western Australia).

Citation details

Noël Stewart, 'Pelloe, Emily Harriet (1877–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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